Video Advertising on YouTube TrueView: A Watershed Moment for Nonprofit Online Video

I’m something of an ad geek. Maybe I always have been. Before coming to See3, I worked at an ad agency where I spent most of my time keeping up with an emerging world of online media tactics, exotic targeting schemes and new, hyper-granular ways to reach people with ads that spoke to their every personal interest and passion…no matter how gourmet. If you were in the market to switch wireless plans or deodorant brands: we could put an ad in front of you online. Our clients always saw ROI – but then again, they had millions of dollars to invest in ads.

Here in the now at See3, our nonprofit clients rarely have palettes of cash lying around spend on online advertising. Traditionally, online media buys came with big dollar commitments and that’s a scary thing. Let’s face it: even if they did have the budgets, most nonprofits don’t even know where to begin with online ads, particularly the most effective ad formats like online video. For most orgs, advertising experience is limited to the management of Google Grants for AdWords. That was, at least, until a new video advertising platform emerged. We think it’s kind of a game changer. Check it out.

Late last year, Google AdWords quietly rolled out a beta version of a new integration with the YouTube platform called TrueView. TrueView lets any user leverage the enormous reach of YouTube and the Google Content network to serve targeted video ads using several formats and all kinds of targeting criteria. In short, it lets advertisers with any sized budget create video ad campaigns that reach only the right people, in the right place in the right context.


TrueView offers all of the essential advantages of the AdWords platform: easy to set up, easy to manage, easy to track and often inexpensive, but marries that to the visual storytelling power of online video.

We adopted TrueView early, using both the beta and full-release versions for recent clients. We wanted to share some things we learned and our tips for using the platform successfully. Here's what every nonprofit needs to know:

Ads come in 4 formats:


Similar to AdWords search ads, these are based on the user's search terms. Targeted by keywords, ads are seen in the Promoted Video search results and suggestions. The viewer sees your suggested video as a promoted video. You only get charged when viewers choose to watch your ad.




Before a video plays, the viewer chooses to watch 1 of 3 video ads. This lets viewers decide which ad is most relevant to them. Again, you are only charged when a viewer chooses to watch your ad. This concept, known as -polite pre-roll- is becoming increasingly popular in video advertising. Expect to see more advertisers offering formats that put ad choice in the




You've seen this before on Google and YouTube. Viewers click to play the ad if they are interested. Like the others, you are charged only when viewers choose to watch your ad. Note that formats vary by publisher. On YouTube, the ad appears as a highlighted suggested video.




These are the YouTube pre-roll ads so many of us see on a daily basis anymore. You play a YouTube video either in YouTube itself or on a website in the Google Content Network and are shown an ad before proceeding to your video. Users are a -captive audience- for the first 5 seconds, after which they can click to skip the ad or continue watching. In this format, you are only charged when the viewer watches at least 50% of your video ad.

Today, we're going to focus on in-stream ads. These pre-roll units give advertisers the greatest opportunity to roadblock contextually relevant content and use video for what it's good for: hooking a viewer and drawing them into a story that brings them to act.

Targeting Opportunities are Many

Demographics – choose the age group and gender of the targets you want to see your video ads

Location – geotarget your ads to specific states, cities, and even zip codes

Interests – Pick from a menu of categories to target users interested in specific topics (based on their browsing behavior and the content on the sites they frequent), even when they may be visiting pages about other topics.

Search Keywords – Your ads are associated with content relevant to users search queries on Google and YouTube.
Search keywords

Specific Placements – You can identify what specific videos you want to run your pre-roll ad on. Is your ad campaign all about climate change? You can pick the 10 most popular videos about environmental issues and ensure that your ad only runs alongside these. You can even choose specific websites from the Google Content network to run ads on.

Remarketing Lists – Reach viewers based on their past interactions with your videos or YouTube channel. If you had a successful YouTube video that told the story of your org’s work, you can target only those viewers who visited your channel and are already familiar with your brand. Pretty cool, huh?

Cost Per View is King

The nuts and bolts of TrueView�s backend are basically the same as AdWords. You create campaigns, you create targeting groups within your campaigns and you choose ads to run against these targeting groups. Like AdWords, ad buys are bid-based. You tell the system how much you want to pay for ads against each format and it serves ads in the live auction. Money-wise, the major difference with TrueView is that instead of paying for impressions (CPM) or paying per click (CPC), you pay on a cost per view (CPV) basis. Right now, YouTube quantifies a view as a video completed to 50% of its length. So if your video is :30 seconds and the user watches it to the :16 second mark you are charged. If they only watch it to the :10 second mark before clicking away, it doesn�t count as a completed view and you pay nothing. Clicks are not charged in TrueView. This has some implications for your creative. See the below section: �Creative Guidelines� for more on that.

Analyze, Optimize, Repeat

Analytics and optimization are just as important to TrueView as they are to a normal AdWords campaign. Luckily for AdWords vets, the layout and basic process for optimization is the same: segment your campaigns into specific targeting groups and analyze them against each other over time. After a while you�ll see what worked (and what didn�t) and what bids are too low or too high. After that, optimization is a piece of cake. And don�t just optimize based on views and clicks! You can set up conversion tracking to see which ads/campaigns resulted in the highest ROI by putting special Google tracking code on your conversion pages. This gives you the whole picture when analyzing performance and attributing success. It�s direct response 101 and something any well-structured ads plan should account for.

Creative Guidelines

As with any online video platform, creative is a huge factor to success. This is even more acute with TrueView, where in-stream video viewers are only �captive� for five short seconds before they�re politely given the option to click away. You have to hook them in the first few moments, otherwise they�re going to push your video aside and go straight to the content they came for in the first place. Your video creative must be disruptive without being annoying. It has to set them up with action, urgency and/or poignancy and it has to knock them down with an urgent and clear call to action.

Recently, we had the opportunity to use TrueView for an important campaign for our longtime clients at the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Going into production knowing that we would be using lightning quick in-stream video ads let us produce a hard-hitting, attention grabbing asset that was logical for the platform. Check it out:


See what we mean? Short, arresting (sometimes you’ve literally got to hit ’em with bat to get their attention) and clear about what it wants the viewer to do. Our point here is that you can�t just throw any old boilerplate video up as an ad if you want to succeed. Your video creative should be logical as a pre-roll ad. That means it gets to the action and gets to the point. Don�t expect a single viewer to linger on your 10 minute fundraising video.

For this campaign, 25,980 people watched the video ad and 26% of those viewers watched to completion. More importantly � 1.7% of viewers clicked through to the campaign microsite (designed by us of course). That�s something considering that the average clickthrough rate for online video generally hovers around 1%. This case goes to show that purpose-produced video made for pre-roll and put on the right channels can win. It�s a basis for any successful video campaign and doubly so when it comes to TrueView.

TrueView is Not Currently Available through the Google Grants Program

Not right now. Keep your fingers crossed though. Combining this with the nonprofit program undoubtedly means a lot of work on Google’s part and that’s going to take some time. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.

Pricing Favors All Sized Budgets (for now)

As I mentioned before, TrueView is only fairly recently out of beta. It�s relatively new and relatively underused – at least by nonprofits. Many of the categories, interests and specific videos you might logically use in your campaigns are probably not being bid on in large numbers as big brands focus on other content more relevant to America at large. As a cause – niche or otherwise – you�ve got a great opportunity to get moving and engaging stories in front of the people you need to see them through TrueView. Our most recent campaign came in at an average $0.12 cost per view (that’s twelve cents per engaged viewer). Additionally, TrueView lets you scale your budgets up and down to with no minimum spend required to get in the game. You can advertise with what you�ve got.

In summary, we�re big fans of TrueView for nonprofits. In fact, we�ll go so far as to say it�s going to be a game changer for online video campaigns. It allows many orgs to get targeted, scalable online video ad campaigns up and running in a short time, on a DIY system they�re already used to. We know every cause has a crucial story to tell through sight, sound and motion. This is another exciting place to do it.

If you want to learn more about how your org can leverage this and other emerging video platforms for upcoming ad campaigns, send me and email and we�ll chat.

If you want to learn more about online advertising for nonprofits, don�t miss our upcoming webinar on ad planning and buying. You can sign up today!

Author: Nasser Asif
  • Video
  • Nonprofits
  • YouTube
  • Advertising
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